I need to slow down and take a moment to acknowledge the Queen of Soul's passing from this world to her eternal resting place. Come on, you gotta believe Aretha is now singing the wheels off heaven. To me, there were/are no singers/musicians/icons greater than Aretha Franklin. Her music simply reached me in a perfect way. I cannot count the many hours spent just listening to her music, appreciating the nuances of greatness in her voice, in her rendition of every song she gave us. I am tearing up thinking/realizing that she will never present us with another album, another moment of her presence on stage. I lament the fact that her final concert appearance could have been here, in New Orleans, for this year's Jazz Fest. I must admit how disappointed I was when she had to cancel. I did not feel like attending the festivities after that - you must understand why. Now that she is gone, I truly appreciate the one concert I attended many years ago. And yet, it wasn't so much her presence as it was the music itself: it became a link to my creativity, to memories I hold dear, to so many moments of true reflection.
Think of this: I am fifteen years old, traveling to basketball games with the team (on the back roads of Louisiana, in the back seat of cars, or on buses), but always noticing Aretha's voice: "I guess I'll rap on your door, tap on your window pane . . . Until you come back to me, that's what I'm gonna do." That's when my young, impressionable heart was truly awakened by Aretha's music.
Many years later, there was the day my new half-siblings showed up at our doorstep for the first time. Aretha was in the background singing, "Share Your Love With Me," and instantly I felt my mother's pain, even though she had then died and could neither care nor be interested in those new memories, those new familial connections.
In the collection of essays I am finalizing, one is titled "Chain of Fools." I talk about a specific day when my young siblings and I danced and clowned outside, by the road, with our mother laughing and sharing the scene. We didn't seem to care that we had formed our own little chain of fools. Here is a sample:
"There was no sadness that day, there near the newly black-topped road, as we danced to Aretha's song. The only crying came from happy tears that flowed from our river of joy. Sometimes I am saddened to know (deeply and instinctively) that my father wasn’t there. He was probably in town, pretending to buy feed, or not pretending at all, but rather boldly going about in his world, creating his second little group of dancing fools—the ones we would find out about many years later, the ones that got even less of him than we did. Sometimes he would come to us, his true family—on the outside of the house, next to the living room window, at the back door on the steps—before he left us that day. His credit had gotten so bad that he couldn’t open a checking account, and thus, neither could my mother (a fact that deeply distressed her). Perhaps he simply thought that he would acquire more than he was entitled to if he used the little assets he called his children. “Sign this check for me,” he would say. And whomever’s name was on the checking account that week, month, or whatever, would print our little names on the blank check, some of us as best we could. Then he’d rush to his truck and drive away. Sometimes we’d jump on the side of the truck and try to ride along, but he always saw us and slowed down just enough so that we could jump off before he picked up speed again."
I guess the point I am making with these references is that Aretha seems to have always been in the background of my life, providing some kind of melodic balance for it all. For those of us who still have records, there is nothing like the crackle of one of Ree's tracks, her voice sounding even more real than it was when it was first recorded.
I don't want to end of a down note. The queen should be celebrated, not mourned. Let's just say, I will always have the wine and bubble baths, as I listen to Ree sing hits like, "Do Right Woman," or "Day Dreaming," or an all-time favorite, "Ain't No Way." And as usual, when I am kind of down and I really want to be lifted by that special voice, I will put on Aretha's "Amazing Grace" album and become transformed - completely blessed by her music, her talent. I will always be grateful for the music. How awesome was she to share it with us. Amazing Aretha!